Let parents choose assessments, says Shearer
Education is shaping up as a major political battleground, after Labour revealed it would give parents the power to withdraw their child's school from controversial national standards.
Labour leader David Shearer rolled out a series of new proposals for the school system yesterday, including free food for all children at the 650 poorest schools and one-on-one reading and maths tuition for an extra 5000 children struggling to keep up.
He has also tackled the national standards policy and ruled out performance pay for teachers.
Talking after his speech, delivered at a West Auckland school, Mr Shearer said national standards in literacy and numeracy would be optional under Labour.
School boards that decided to stay with the national standards would report them in a "school report card" and those that opted out would have to report on the results of the other types of assessment they chose.
Parents did not need to compare schools that were kilometres apart, so millions of dollars should not be spent on a "complex moderation system" for the national standards, he said.
"Parents don't go to five different schools, they go to one school and they want to see what their school is doing well there."
The Government will, for the first time, release the national standards results in literacy and numeracy for every primary and intermediate school at the end of this month.
Some education leaders believe the results are so unreliable that they could lead to parents making unfair comparisons.
Prime Minister John Key has admitted the data was "ropey" but said it would improve over time.
Mr Shearer said he personally found the reporting at one of his own children's school better before the national standards had been implemented.
"We're not going to unpick it but certainly, I don't think national standards is the silver bullet that this Government has been talking about."
Parents would decide whether national standards remained at a school, not teachers, he said. "Ultimately, it's the school board that will make the decision."
He also scotched suggestions Labour may move toward performance pay for teachers.
"I'm against performance pay. Our school system works really well because it's co-operative. Teachers share resources, they share good practice, and they share ideas.
"If you put in a competitive model, teachers end up holding that to themselves."
Teacher union the New Zealand Educational Institute welcomed Mr Shearer's speech, saying it provided "commonsense solutions" to the problems teachers dealt with every day.
But Education Minister Hekia Parata said she could not see how a school report card would work without the national standards.
"It would be very hard to see how you could produce any kind of report without quality data and that's what our plan embarks on."
The Government already contributed to KidsCan and to the Fruit in Schools programme and up to $62 million a year was spent on food parcels, she said.
"So actually, every student should be able to come to school with porridge or Weet-Bix in their tummy."
FIVE BIG IDEAS
Extend "Reading Recovery" to an extra 5000 children in primary schools.
Introduce a new "Maths Recovery" programme for children aged 7 or 8 who are falling behind in numeracy.
Free food to children in all 650 decile 1 to 3 primary and intermediate schools.
A new "school report" with plain-English information about schools and data on performance in every subject area.
Careers advice in early secondary school.